Author: Jsoze

Part 2: black lagoon

In the black of the night, I was sitting in the driver’s seat, guiding a small sedan along a serpentine one-lane suburban road. A dense fog lingered above the ground. Headlights illuminated the path before me. There were no other vehicles on the road. There was no music playing. The steering wheel, dashboard, center console; all unfamiliar. This wasn’t my car. As I approached a bend, I slowed the vehicle and gazed to my left. There was a small ranch house. Tire marks ripped through the grass. The tracks leading up to a bare coniferous tree split in two. A bouquet of flowers at its base. My attention returned to the empty road as silence floated through the air. I drove further before looking to my left again. Two black horses were walking in the oncoming lane.

*****

I was by myself, standing in the corridor of a house looking into a kitchen. There was a party taking place. I felt drunk. Nothing looked familiar. Dozens of people were scattered around me, drinking from red solo cups, having conversations, laughing. I didn’t know them. Their voices overshadowed the music playing. I didn’t recognize any of the people in the kitchen. My vision was hazy. I must be very drunk, I thought. I wandered around like a ghost, searching for any sense of familiarity. Looking someone or something I recognized. I approached a group of people surrounding the island in the middle of the kitchen and stood near them, beckoning for someone to recognize me. But I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. They didn’t acknowledge my presence.

I was confused and paced into a dimly lit hallway in search of my friends. They must be here, I thought. Along the hallway there we’re several doors. One opened. I saw two people enter the hallway through a doorway which revealed a room of full of people partying. I stepped into the room. After walking to the center, I stood by myself and surveyed those around me, looking for friends. I did not see a single recognizable face. And as I stood there, the crowd grew thicker. Conversations grew louder and louder and louder and I started to feel dizzy. My heart rate accelerated. More and more people continued to appear until I felt like I was drowning. In a sea of strangers, suffocating.

I had to get out. I swam through the crowd to reach the door. But the crowd seemed endless and the room felt like it had expanded. It felt so big and I felt so small and helpless and overwhelmed. I became frightened. I began to shove and push my way through the mob of people. Eventually I reached an opening. A young man walked past me, and in panic, I grabbed his shoulder and swung him around. With wide eyes and a furrowed brow he looked startled before seeing my face and letting out a sigh.

Oh, it’s you, he said.

Where am I?

He laughed. 

Where am I? Please, I don’t feel good. I really don’t feel good and I don’t know where I’m at. Just – where am I.

He laughed again. Jordan, you’re just drunk, he said. 

I, I don’t know you.  Who are YOU. Where AM I.

He laughed again, turned his back and vanished into the abyss of people. I was terrified and alone. Maybe I had been drugged. But I couldn’t figure out where I was or who I was here with and I was freaking out. Breaths became shallow and quick. The door reappeared. I hastily leapt forward, swung it open and reemerged in the hallway and tried to catch my breath.

I don’t know what is going on but I think I screwed up. I think I screwed up big time. I think I’ve done something terribly wrong.

Walking towards the kitchen was the figure of a thin, blonde girl wearing a red and black plaid flannel shirt. A wave of relief swept over me. It was Nicolette.

I called out to her.

She continued to walk, her back turned to me.

NICOLETTE.

I ran to her and grabbed her and spun her around to finally find the answers I was searching for.

Nicolette, I don’t know where we are and I can’t find anyone, I said. Where’s Nick? Where is everyone?

She didn’t speak. Her face was cloaked by the darkness of the hallway. I leaned closer and scanned her face. It was not Nicolette. Terror flooded all the way to my toes. It looked nearly identical to her but it wasn’t her. It wasn’t her. The girl stood in front of me silently without saying a word. Her eyes gazed over my shoulder, gesturing me to turn around.

I turned around and gleaming at me at the end of the hallway was the front door to the house. An escape. I stumbled towards the door, hyperventilating. I was struggling to keep my balance. Every step felt like walking a tight rope. Upon opening the door, I saw fifty, seventy, eighty people scattered and having conversations on the front lawn. Beyond the lawn, a forest with no street in sight, no neighbors to the right or to the left. I stepped outside and my vision blurred, but the people in the crowd in front of me looked faintly familiar. I crept closer and I felt weak. But I had to find them. I could hardly stand. Trying my hardest not to fall. Not to succumb to whatever poison had taken grip over my mind and body.

I reached them. I noticed my younger brother. With tears in my eyes, I ran up to him and cried, Nick, Nick – you gotta help me.  Nick you’ve gotta help me man.  Where are we?  What is going on?  Please just help me Nick.   

It was not Nick. Rather, another person who resembled him. My eyes darted across the crowd. Michael. Jared. Ryan. Kiersten. PJ. Izzy. Jack. Andrew. I was surrounded by doppelgängers of my friends.

My nose got bloody. My ears started ringing. I felt pressure on my brain. My vision blurred.

I began to whisper.

Help… help.

My heart racing out of control, each beat throbbing throughout my body. With each beat it was expanding and taking up more room in my chest, making it harder to breath.

Help, I said with tears building up in my eyes. My voice grew higher. Help. Somebody help me… please.

They were surrounding me. Thirty, forty, fifty of them. The faces of all my friends. They stared at me in silence while I begged for their help.

Tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt weak. I started screaming.

HELP ME. I’M NOT OKAY. IM NOT OKAY. HELP ME. I’M SORRY. PLEASE. I AM SORRY.

With each shout the strength of my voice faded further and further, into a whimper.

They stared at me without expression.

I felt weaker with every breath. I collapsed to my knees. Moonlight glistening put me in submission. My body fell to the grass. My breaths slowed to nothing. Lying in the grass they walked closer and stood over me and stared. Everything faded to black. I slipped into an abyss of darkness.

My eyes opened. A black-hooded demon was hovering over me.  

I tried to yell but nothing came out. I forcefully closed my eyes. I opened my eyes again, body soaking-wet, lying in bedsheets drenched in sweat. Bedroom pitched black, my door lied ajar exposing the light of my apartment hallway. I heard the squeak of my front door being pushed open.

I tried to move my body. I attempted to raise my arms, my legs. To wiggle my toes or my fingers. Nothing. My body was paralyzed.

The clunk of footsteps echoed through my hallway, each step growing closer. Cold fear filled the chambers of my heart. Someone was in my apartment. The footsteps slowly grew nearer. And louder. And they kept walking towards my room.

I channeled every ounce of mental energy into moving a single muscle. I closed my eyes and told myself it wasn’t real. It can’t be. I’m dreaming.

But I wasn’t dreaming. This was my actual bedroom. This was my bed. The wall décor. The bedsheets. It was real. I opened my eyes. The silhouette of a hooded man stood at my door, staring at me while I lied in my bed. Trapped in my body, paralyzed, consumed by horror.

My toes began to wiggle. My fingers bent on command. I closed my eyes and reopened them. He took a step towards me. I closed my eyes again. Desperately trying to move my feet and my hands. Flexed my legs. I opened my eyes once more. And he was gone. I sighed and channeled my mind to reconnect with my limp body. Soon my legs and arms followed.

I sat up in my bed, back against the headboard, brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I sat there in the dark – shaking, rocking back and forth, telling myself that everything was okay for ten minutes while the innocent chirping of morning birds sang in the background.

This really needs to stop happening, I thought to myself. 

The time: 5:20 am. 

I played the surreal images over and over in my head for the next two hours, staring at the ceiling, while the sun slowly poured light through my bedroom window. The sounds of my next door neighbor’s shower water running signaled the start of a new day. 

The phone rang. It was her.

Good morning, she said cheerfully.

Hey, good morning.

How’d you sleep?

Well I didn’t fall asleep til’ like two.

Why’d you stay up so late?

I don’t know.

Well did you sleep well at least?

Like a baby, I said. 

Good, I know you needed a good night of sleep.  What are you doing today?

Oh, you know, just studying. Gonna watch some boards videos, do my flash cards, then some practice questions. We don’t have anything mandatory today, so I have the whole day to myself to study.

Ugh perfect, you’re gonna have a great day.

Thanks, and you?

Well I’m on my way to class, then I’m going to the rec, then I think me and the girls are going out to dinner. 

Oh cool. Where at?

I think Meg wants to try the new taco place down the street and get mojitos, she said.

That sounds like fun.

Yeah I think so too.  I need it. It’s been a long week. 

I know, right.

Mhmm… well you better have a great day. You’re so smart. Keep killing it. I love you.

I love you too. 

Say it like you mean it.

I – love – you – too.

That’s better. Alright, love ya. Bye!

Bye. 

I hung up the phone, draped myself in my bathrobe, brewed a pot of coffee, and locked my fears in my bedroom until the day’s work was complete. Until the cycle could begin again.

Part 1: Missed Calls

Part 3: Get a Life

Part 4: Rorschach Test

Part 1: missed calls

November 2017

You woke up, eyes heavy. Vision blurred. A soul full of laughter and joy. But still, head pounding. Look at the clock: jesus christ it’s almost noon. How did you sleep this late, on a couch nonetheless. It’s medical school and you’re tired and on vacation visiting friends. You deserve this. You are at Shaliek’s apartment. He’s in law school. Eighth floor. Exactly where you needed to be. Surrounded by friends and laughter. This is what you’ve been longing for.

You reach around for your phone – the coffee table, between the couch cushions, not there. Slip and wiggle your hand under her. Feel the rubber case and cold glass of the screen. Yank it from beneath her butt. Press that button on the side. So many notifications overlying a background of happy days. Who could want this much from you on a Saturday morning.

Mom: six missed calls, messages saying “call me, please”. Missed calls from your brothers. So many missed calls from various friends.

What gives.

You felt a pit in your stomach.

Stood up, her eyes cracked and she glanced up at you and you put your right index finger to your lips and gave her the “shh” gesture then she buried her face in the pillow and passed out again. Rubbed your eyes. Looked at all the notifications again.

Something isn’t right.

You call your brother. Uncomfortable silence for what felt like an eternity. You finally say: what is going on.

He doesn’t speak.

You repeat: What the fuck is going on.

Ryan, he replies. Cue awful silence.

What ABOUT RYAN, you yell.

Silence.

Ryan’s dead, he says.

You stood there unable to form words.

The diver was drunk and…

The arm holding the phone to your ear falls to your side. You can’t comprehend what you’re hearing. You stand there limp. Blank. For minutes. You look at your phone: missed calls from Ryan. No. He called twelve hours ago. God. No questions because the why or how didn’t matter. Every context clue told you that what he said was true. With an empty face you toss your phone back on the couch. Walk to the door without a murmur. Step onto to the balcony. Look out into the city. Stand there with your back turned to them. A crowd gathered looking at you at this point.

The sky is grey. The balcony wet. And you just start crying. No. What the fuck. No no no no. You whimper. God please. No. You look into the sky searching for normal. But it’s not there. Grey clouds engulf the sky. No, PLEASE, no. And you quiver and tears pour and bury your face in your hands. This can’t be happening. No.

But it’s all so painfully real.

She walks out and asks what’s wrong. And you start shaking and crying harder. You tell her Ryan’s dead. She doesn’t ask any more questions. She just hugs you and let’s you cry. You bury your face in her shirt.

You didn’t know it then but life sucks sometimes and people you love will die. You will mourn and it will hurt but you will get over it.

But now, five years later, you know this is when everything changed.

Part 2: Black Lagoon

Part 3: Get a Life

Part 4: Rorschach Test

hey man

June 2022

I’m sorry I didn’t come to your birthday weekend. I’m sorry I bailed on your family’s party in the winter too. I really am sorry. I’d say I’m sorry about not acknowledging you birthday when we originally met, but your birthday is the first of July. An atrocious birthday — we were all just tepid little interns on our first day.

You were an intern doing a transitional year internship before fleeing to greener pastures in the world of anesthesia. Life was.., idk, predetermined. I was an unmatched lost boy trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. We started intern year in the ICU together. We did our first intubations, lines, etcetera as doctors together. You took a picture to commemorate this. We joked around and wrote our notes together. We’d go on long walks around the hospital on slow afternoons to just goof around and vent and bond. Funny thing is, I scored like fifty points higher than you on Step 1 yet you were the better intern, the better doctor. You made me want to be smarter. I still remember how torn up you were when your thirty-something patient was put on ECMO and eventually died. We did chest compressions and watched people die together.

After my girlfriend moved out, I came to your apartment. You were a good friend man. At the time, you were my only friend. From that point forward we were inseparable.

You were a friend in every sense of the word. You answered the phone when I needed help. And you know I did. In my darkest days, days when I never wanted to leave my apartment, you would pick me up and we’d go to that Mexican place and eat tacos and have a margarita or a corona or whatever. Weekly tradition. It was our spot. On days I felt non-existent you and I would make each other laugh in the hospital. Over something stupid. In my worst days when all I wanted to do was involute on my couch and be sad all night, you’d pick me up on your way to the gym and force me to come and lift with you. You could always bench more than me but I can deadlift more. We’d tease each other about this. About everything.

Before the match (round 2 heh) I was losing my mind. You wanted me to come to Puerto Rico with you and a few of the other residents the weekend before the match. Vero, who we joked was the love of my life, was going to be there. I tried to bail. Gave you every excuse I could imagine. You didn’t accept any of them. You forced me to come with you and the girls. We stayed at her family’s place in Añasco. Day trips to Rincon and Cabo RoJo. The girls would try to teach us Spanish but the only phrase we memorized was: Una fria por favor. Haha. All of these experiences are now canonical in my existence.

The following week you took my shift on match day so I could go get mimosas with my mom and panic in anticipation of what specialty and what part of the country I was going to live in. My mom had to be there because she was as anxious as I was. She loves you guys. She always reminded me how lucky I was to have found a friend like you. You, roxy and Cynthia met my mom and I after work and the five of us celebrated at those beach bars and it was one of the best days of my life. I had no idea at the time, but it was.

You’ll never know how much your friendship meant to me dude. I don’t know if I’d be here without you.

Miss ya man.

My friend the walls

October 2017

The short hand rested peacefully over the number one while the long hand climactically crept closer to the twelve. Two laps remained. He watched intently. Before the long hand reached its destination, the doctor said, “good job today, everyone”. On this cue, the students folded their laptop computers and placed them in their bookbags.

It was a Friday. The group, consisting of eight medical students and one physician instructor, had just spent the previous two hours dissecting two clinical cases pertaining to pediatric pathology. One, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The other, diarrhea. 

He, as always, strategically sat at the head of the table to ensure that no one could see his computer screen. While engaged in the discussion, he also liked to text her under the guise of researching the topic at hand. 

He often complained to her about these group activities. 

As the session was dismissed, everyone packed their bags and engaged in friendly banter – weekend plans, an upcoming quiz, board exams.  They would often stay in the room for five to ten minutes engaged in conversation before trickling out.  He, however, left immediately.  As he always did. 

(more…)

Dating in Residency: Dana

July 2022

It’s Friday evening and I’m on a flight to Philadelphia to visit my brother. Cheap Spirit flight for a weekend trip. Window seat and the sun is setting and the sky is so ethereally gorgeous I have to take a picture. Last night you texted me: don’t forget the good stuff if you ever write about me. And now that wifi and cell service are obsolete — well why not.

I called you “day-nuh” and you told me it was pronounced like “Donna”. Might be an Israeli thing. I don’t know. Anyways, it was a Friday night like two months ago. We got cocktails at the Speakeasy lounge I bring all my dates to. To enter you have to punch in a code at a back door of another bar. This gives me like 0.0001 cool points. It’s a charming place with good lighting. Overpriced drinks but what can you do. The lighting though – if someone doesn’t find you attractive in that lighting and setting, they never will.

Sure you were attractive in that lighting but you were also attractive at sunset on the beach, at the pho spot, in the morning, everywhere. You were kind and you made me laugh. Transparent and introspective. It never seemed like an act. You were hot but didn’t have the whole hot girl facade personality. You spoke with this sort of off-kilter cadence and you had these vocal inflections that I thought were so impossibly cute. You asked me questions and genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say. And I wanted to hear what you had to say. On most dates girls give me monologues, trying to be impressive or cool. I have to pinch myself to keep my attention. Not you though.

(more…)

Must return to the forest

September 2021

There’s a quote from 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, that says “respond to every call that excites your spirit”.

Once I was 18 years old. And I was with my friends on a beach off the Gulf of Mexico. The water was calm so we decided to swim out to sand bar a few hundred feet out. Seemed like a fun thing to do and we were able-bodied, athletic kids. We waded through the waves until we could no longer touch the ocean floor then we picked up our feet and started swimming. We swam and we swam. The shore grew further and further. I started to tire. We surmised that we must be close, we just had to swim a little further. I was exhausted. I was struggling. But we were so close. Once we reached that sand bar we could stop treading water and sink our feet into the sand below and stand and have fun and laugh until we were reenergized enough to swim back. But there came a point when we realized we’d gone too far. It was high tide. There was no sandbar. We were so deep into the ocean that the people laying on towels and sitting on beach chairs looked so small. You couldn’t hear them speak or yell or hear their music. I was gasping for air, panting, treading water. There was no moment of rest. All I felt was electric fear. You have to push and swim all the way back. You don’t have a choice. So I stopped thinking about how out of breath I was. About how exhausted I was. Rhythmically with each arm I tore into the water kicking my legs with as much force as they could generate. I saw the shore and kept rowing my arms until it got closer.

(more…)

Eating on a budget in residency

November 2021

You need to budget better. Stop eating out. You need to cook for yourself more. Have you ever tried meal prepping.

Listen, I’m a fantastic cook. And I’m not talking your run-of-mill ‘dude who knows how to cook chicken and rice and boil noodles’. I can cook. This winter on separate occasions I made a seafood and chorizo paella (absolutely splurged on the saffron) and I also cooked a batch of my Italian grandmother’s sauce from scratch. Took me an entire Sunday. I was really proud of that. And I deserved to be — they were damn good. They were both fantastic. I can cook.

And I love cooking. But. Try waking up in complete darkness and being the first car to leave the apartment parking garage in the morning. Getting home from the hospital anywhere between 6 and 9 pm. And only in my wildest fantasy do I get home at 6 pm every day. When I do get home, I am mentally and physically exhausted. Brain feels like applesauce. Hips feel like a twelve year old Labrador. I want to sit and involute on my couch. I don’t want to speak to anyone. I don’t want to text anyone. I want to do something mindless because I spent the entire day thinking and stressing and pacing around under bright fluorescent lights. I want to dissolve. I do not want another task. Another chore. I don’t want to spend any effort preparing a halfway decent meal, cooking it, eating, cleaning the dishes, and so on. Can you imagine. Twelve plus hour day, you cook a good meal, then, my lord – the dishes. Hang me.

(more…)

We will always love you

April 2021

The number was typed into my phone, thumb hovering over iPhone call button icon. For at least a minute I was frozen. It was my patient’s daughter. Three in the morning. This is a total DSP, I thought. Parlance for “day shift problem”. Calling families is a total DSP but if someone dies or is actively trying to die you have to do it. Hell. But there was little optimism he’d make it through the night, so. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. Pressed the button. I hoped she wouldn’t answer. Rang a few times and I had that thank god feeling until someone said hello. Shit. I told her I was doctor so and so, a resident at the hospital, working in the intensive care unit. She asked about her father. I had to tell her with muted emotion that he wasn’t going to make it much longer. Do you want us to continue complete resuscitation measures, i asked.

I just, I just need a minute, she said. 

She came back. Explained to me how they thought he was doing better, his kidneys were improving and the numbers indicated his infection was clearing up. He was doing better, she said, voice choked up from the burst of emotion one feels when they hear that someone they’ve known their whole life, someone who made them who they are, is for all measures, gone. And will never come back. 

I got angry. How the hell did anyone paint a picture that he was doing better. Why give this woman and her family that hope. I professionally sucked all of that hope of out them. All I could think to say was I’m sorry. What can you say: I’m sorry. 

(more…)

When does it get better

April 2022

When does it get better, she asks. 

I don’t know. I mean, a switch doesn’t flip one day. When someone you love dies you don’t hear a eulogy and think to yourself, gosh, it all makes sense now. You don’t say a prayer and find some sort of divine comfort. Nothing helps. It sucks. Nothing is going to happen for you. Life isn’t a Disney movie. Shitty things happen. And nothing will ever convince you it doesn’t suck. You are doomed. Doomed to carry it with you until other things and people start occupying your heart. A tree dies and a new one doesn’t spring up from the ashes in the morning.

Still, you can be sad and angry all you want. You deserve to be. You should be. This whole thing sucks. So. Obsessively ruminate over why and what you could have done differently until your brain breaks. Mentally rehearse conversations you’ll never have with people who don’t care you exist. Scream into the void. Drive yourself insane. Go crazy.  For as long as you want. For as long as you need. 

But you have realize. You’ll get off work one day mad about something innate to residency while someone in your dream program is feeling the exact same. You’ll despair over some program that didn’t want you. After two years you’d be counting down the days until you could leave anyways. No matter what you’ll be physically exhausted from long hours in a gloomy hospital. 

You can shake your fist at the sky but it’s still blue and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. You can scream and curse but beautiful songs and melodies will forever drown you out. One day you decide to go for a walk with good music in your ears and the sun is shining and a wide-eyed puppy scampers at your feet and jumps on your knee, its tail wagging all joyous and such. I promise you, that dog doesn’t give a damn about the match or your residency. The sun sets and it looks like bob ross himself painted the sky and it’s still picturesque, despite you. Go ahead and try. But you can’t escape the small pleasures. The beauty of it all. The watermelon on a summer day; it’s still sweet. Your mom is still excited to hear your voice on the phone. A baby smiles at you in line at the grocery store. You laugh with new friends. Life is still happening.

All is not lost.

(more…)

Memories & Merlot

January 2021

One day you pick up the phone. It’s the dean of a medical school. He congratulates you on your acceptance into their medical school. You are so overwhelmed with joy that one lonesome tear crawls down your cheek. You let it roll. And you wipe it away quickly because you’re bartending and absolutely no one wants to see their bartender cry. For god sakes, no emotions. But you’re so happy you want to cry. You call your mom and your dad. You try to contain it but every cell in your body is bursting with euphoria. Your life changes. You have a future. You are going to be a doctor. This is one of the best moments of your entire life. Congrats.

Then one day you wake up on the floor, alone in your apartment. It’s the emptiest of feelings. You hate who you’ve become. The morning light spills through the blinds to the patio. It burns your eyes. Empty bottle of nine dollar Merlot on your coffee table. Your old MacBook is in front of you, last open to text message threads from friends and people you loved who only exist in these archives. You read them to relive old memories that no one aside from you even gives a shit about. The texts you sent in 2017 read like they were sent from someone else. An entirely different human being.

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